The Winners and Losers of the Speaker Battle

It’s safe to say that 2023 is already off to a great start. If the mainstream media is desperately trying to paint something as disastrous or “embarrassing” for our political elite, chances are whoever is responsible for the “embarrassment” is doing the right thing.

And that’s exactly what can be said of the 20 brave holdouts in the House of Representatives. Every single one of them deserves praise for their roles in this historic and consequential battle for the speakership. Their efforts have revealed the true colors of many characters inside and outside of Congress previously considered reliable conservatives. But one fighter has clearly risen above the rest and earned the greatest reward of them all.

A Modern-Day Political Thermopylae

The 2023 speaker’s race has already written itself into the history books. It is the first time in exactly 100 years that a speaker had to be elected by multiple ballots, and only the second time this has occurred since the Civil War. Surpassing 1923’s total of nine ballots, it became the longest speakership race since 1859.

But perhaps what is most noteworthy about this race was the complete uniformity of the opposition. For the first 11 consecutive ballots, the original 19 held firm and refused to budge. Indeed, they were empowered when their ranks grew by one with the defection of Florida’s Byron Donalds, and further boosted when another McCarthy supporter, Indiana’s Victoria Spartz, switched her vote to “present” for eight consecutive votes.

Even as the group’s previously unanimous votes for single candidates, like Donalds or Jim Jordan, eventually splintered into different votes for a variety of others, from President Donald Trump to Oklahoma’s Kevin Hern, they remained firmly united in their opposition to McCarthy.

As such, it was clear that when a majority of them finally flipped to McCarthy for the 12th ballot, they did so not out of exhaustion or caving to pressure, but because they had finally secured major concessions out of McCarthy. And the concessions that have reportedly been made cannot be emphasized enough: From a vote on term limits for Congress and a plan to further secure the Texas border, to a measure forcing any debt ceiling-lifting measures to be accompanied by spending cuts, to an agreement that McCarthy’s leadership PAC will stay out of open primaries in safe Republican seats, to a Church-style committee to investigate the deep state’s abuse of power, it might as well be Christmas all over again for conservatives.

But the most significant result of this drawn-out battle was the set of reforms to the process of vacating the chair. Even after McCarthy initially offered to lower the threshold to just five members being needed to force such a vote, the holdouts refused to waver until he lowered it to just one person. Now, although he finally has the power he has been seeking for the last seven years, McCarthy must spend his entire speakership looking over his shoulder and trying to keep every one of the 20 who opposed him happy.

The sweetest part of this development is that it guarantees no retaliation from McCarthy or his cronies against those who refused to support him, which normally would be the go-to tactic of previous GOP leaders. After being humiliated in front of the entire nation, and entering the speaker’s office with a huge black eye, McCarthy is powerless to seek retribution. He must now continue to cater to the people who put him in his place.

The Conservatives’ True Colors

Right alongside the voter fraud question after 2020, or the aftermath of January 6, few events in recent history have done more to draw decisive battle lines in the conservative movement than the 2023 speaker’s race.

Many figures once revered across the board by the grassroots proved themselves to be far more indebted to the establishment than previously believed. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich claimed that the anti-McCarthy voters had “no moral right” to oppose McCarthy. Radio host Mark Levin openly compared the original 19 holdouts to NeverTrumpers Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. Sean Hannity laughably tried to defend McCarthy by claiming that Ronald Reagan would have supported him. The once-great New York Post attacked the holdouts by telling them to “grow up.”

And lines were drawn even more clearly within the halls of Congress. Even though many have already been aware of Dan Crenshaw’s (R-Texas) RINO tendencies, he turned the obnoxiousness up to 11 during this speaker’s race, going so far as to call the conservative holdouts “terrorists.”

Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), long considered a favorite of Fox News viewers, went all-in on McCarthy. It should come as no surprise, considering that the man has built his entire reputation off of screaming at committee hearings in the hopes that the subsequent sound bites would cover up the fact that he doesn’t actually do anything. But if his silence on January 6th prisoners or his inability to answer for campaign donations from Google weren’t enough, hopefully his pathetic lapdog act for McCarthy may finally break a lot of Boomers’ illusions about his conservative credentials and future effectiveness.

And Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), long considered the media’s public enemy number one and sometimes declared the most “far-right” member of Congress, has also proven a disappointment. Despite previously having been a thorn in the establishment’s side, she ended up becoming one of McCarthy’s attack dogs against her own allies. Clearly, her desire to be restored to her committee assignments trumped everything else. It was a rather bizarre feeling to not see her sitting with the ranks of the dissenters alongside Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.), but this was one more mask that needed to be removed for the good of the America First movement.

By contrast, the collection of conservative warriors who stood firm against McCarthy featured many well-known names in the America First movement and the Freedom Caucus, and each of them deserves praise. Several of the most passionate nomination speeches against McCarthy came from the likes of North Carolina’s Dan Bishop, Texas’ Chip Roy, and Montana’s Matt Rosendale. Others in the ranks include McCarthy’s very first challenger, Arizona’s Andy Biggs, as well as fellow Arizonan Paul Gosar, arguably the most conservative member of the House.

Praise must also be given to the five holdouts who were just elected in November, as their very first votes in Congress were their votes against McCarthy: Oklahoma’s Josh Brecheen, Arizona’s Eli Crane, Florida’s Anna Paulina Luna, Tennessee’s Andy Ogles, and Texas’ Keith Self.

Boebert, fresh off of an excruciatingly narrow re-election victory, had already established herself as a firebrand from the moment she entered politics by confronting gun-grabbing three-time loser Beto O’Rourke. But her leading role in this particular fight has earned her a whole new rank. She withstood vicious attacks from all around her, from sexist remarks by “comedian” Jimmy Kimmel to stale attacks from “conservative” TV host Sean Hannity. She even ventured onto extremely thin ice by calling on President Trump to withdraw his support for McCarthy; she did so rather tastefully, avoiding any actual criticism of Trump himself while highlighting the necessity of calling out McCarthy’s weaknesses.

Florida Man

Indeed, the speaker’s race has drawn battle lines in the conservative movement that were previously not contemplated. As a result, the true victor of this fight is a rather unlikely one. And of course, it’s not really Kevin McCarthy.

The one who comes away from this ordeal looking the best is the undisputed ringleader of the anti-McCarthy effort: Florida’s Matt Gaetz.

In addition to his work behind-the-scenes, whipping votes for the opposition and clearly emerging as the lead negotiator with McCarthy, Gaetz delivered most of the best moments from the multi-day process. From his bombastic nomination of President Trump for speaker and effortless response to Trey Gowdy’s empty criticisms, to a savage joke connecting McCarthy to endless Ukraine funding and his letter questioning whether or not McCarthy could be considered a “squatter” for moving into the speaker’s office prematurely, Gaetz was one of the very few who held out to the very end, and did so in style. His efforts even led him to achieve something previously thought to be unthinkable, when he not only engaged in civil conversation with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-N.Y.), but even managed to find common ground with her on the question of a possible “coalition government.” 

In the climactic confrontation with McCarthy, it was Gaetz who commanded the attention of the entire room, and the viewing audience back home, for several intense minutes. As McCarthy’s body language conveyed a man who was exhausted and frustrated to no end, gradually turning to aggression and attempted intimidation, Gaetz remained calm and in control. And it goes without saying that if it gets to the point where a deranged RINO like Alabama’s Mike Rogers attempts to physically attack Gaetz, then clearly Gaetz is doing something very right.

Gaetz undoubtedly comes away from this as the man who owns the entirety of the anti-McCarthy crusade, even more so than Biggs or Freedom Caucus chairman, Pennsylvania’s Scott Perry. As others who were once considered conservative stars, like Jordan and Greene, proved to be disappointments as a result of their actions during this campaign, Gaetz alone stands as the remaining champion who led this opposition to a substantial series of policy victories in exchange for handing McCarthy the gavel.

Gaetz had already proven himself to be a conservative firebrand and an unapologetic supporter of President Trump. But as a result of his leadership in this historic battle for speaker, Gaetz has now earned his stripes as a four-star general of the Right. It is no exaggeration to say that Gaetz is now the undisputed leader of the America First movement from within the halls of Congress.

If ever there was a time when someone could be considered a “shadow speaker” of the House of Representatives, it would be now. And that shadow speaker is Matt Gaetz.

About Eric Lendrum

Eric Lendrum graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he was the Secretary of the College Republicans and the founding chairman of the school’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter. He has interned for Young America’s Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, and the White House, and has worked for numerous campaigns including the 2018 re-election of Congressman Devin Nunes (CA-22). He is currently a co-host of The Right Take podcast.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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